The truth about Haiti

It is not only by bombing and invasion that the George W Bush regime gets rid of governments it doesn't like. It also uses subversion and economic sanctions. We may not know for sure until years into the future, but the departure of Jean-Bertrand Aristide from Haiti looks suspiciously like US-induced "regime change". Indeed, one US congresswoman, Barbara Lee, has made so bold as to use exactly that term, "with all due respect", in a letter to the secretary of state, Colin Powell. To be sure, Mr Aristide has failed to live up to what the world hoped from him when he was a slum priest and preacher of liberation theology. His regime had become corrupt, thuggish and intolerant of opposition, as often happens when a leader believes himself to be a direct conduit for the will of both God and people. But it was nothing like the Duvalier dictatorship that was overthrown in 1987; and, though there are similarities in the use of brutal vigilantes (Mr Aristide is said to have supported "necklacing", in which people are executed by gasoline-soaked tyres), the Haitian ruler hardly deserved the title "Mugabe of the Caribbean".

The most likely truth has been spelt out in the Financial Times by Jeffrey Sachs, professor of economics at Columbia University: "President George Bush's foreign policy team came into office intent on toppling Mr Aristide." Elsewhere, Professor Sachs has added that the present chaos was "made in Washington - deliberately, cynically and steadfastly". The neoconservatives around President Bush have long seen Mr Aristide as another potential Castro. Since even President Castro himself now hardly represents a strategic threat to the US, this may seem an absurd worry. But as Iraq has shown, the neo-cons live in a time warp.

Haiti is a country of almost unbelievable poverty and squalor (see Darcus Howe, page 11). Life expectancy for men is 48; one child in ten dies before its fifth birthday; 85 per cent of the people live on less than a dollar a day; unemployment is at 70 per cent. Nearly all the raw materials are controlled by US corporations, and companies such as Disney use it as a source of cheap manufacturing. It is not hard to see why the plutocracy in the White House might be happy to see the back of a president who claims the alleviation of poverty as his main goal. According to Maxine Waters, one of the few US members of Congress to oppose the Iraq war and a visitor to Haiti twice this year, Mr Aristide disbanded the military, doubled the minimum wage and built more schools in six years than had been built in the previous 190. Nobody seems to know exactly where the well-armed and well-organised rebels against him suddenly came from. At least one leader had been convicted in connection with a massacre in 1994 when at least 26 people died; another is alleged to have led a cocaine-trafficking ring in the 1990s.

Mr Aristide won his first election in 1990 with two-thirds of the vote. When he was overthrown in a military coup a year later, the Organisation of American States imposed sanctions - though the US "exempted" some 800 of its firms and increased its trade with Haiti by about 50 per cent. With the help of 20,000 US troops, sent in by President Clinton, Mr Aristide returned to power in 1994. Whether or not by coincidence, he appointed a "businessman" prime minister and agreed to a "structural adjustment" package from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, including openness to foreign imports and investment. One result was that Haiti was flooded with subsidised US rice, forcing its own farmers out of business. When it fined US rice importers for evading duty, it lost $30m in US aid.

Disputed elections for the legislature in 2000 (there seems no doubt that Mr Aristide won the presidential elections legitimately in the same year) led Haiti to its current crisis. Mr Aristide's party won, but the opposition alleged irregularities. Electoral flaws are hardly unknown, even in the US itself, but it was enough to persuade the IMF, the World Bank and others to suspend aid. US troops did not intervene to protect the democratically elected Mr Aristide. Now they have arrived, perhaps they will organise new elections (which were due in 2006 anyway). But don't hold your breath.

Haiti may be a faraway island of which we know little. TV reports, particularly, treat its problems as a series of random events, with voodoo somewhere in the background and the US cavalry riding to the rescue. You will rarely hear from Professor Sachs and Congresswomen Lee and Waters. But they are most likely right: the US has form in Latin America and the Bush regime cares not about making the world safe for democracy, but about keeping it safe for corporations.

A dogging life

The Sun has performed an important public service in exposing Stan Collymore, the former professional footballer, "dogging" in Staffordshire. Without the determined inquiries of its undercover team, millions of readers might have been unaware of this practice and of its close relative, "piking". They might have thought, as Mr Collymore apparently did, that "dogging is just a bit of fun". Now, they have learnt from Deidre, the Sun's agony aunt (or are they called sex counsellors now?), that "it's dangerous and sordid sex with strangers . . . which damages lasting relationships and risks sexual health". Armed with this advice, they will also know, if they should find themselves in the area, to avoid a certain location in Cannock Chase, to which the Sun gives very precise directions while warning that it is "a haunt for dogging". Truly, the Lord moves in mysterious ways, but what wonders he performs through the Sun.